Last year, more than 285 million people visited national parks and other units of the National Park System, marking 2009 the fifth busiest year ever. If you like statistics, that means 10 million more Americans and foreign tourists visited national parks than the year before— a 3.9% increase. The all-time visitation record of 287.2 million was set in 1987.
This week, the National Park Service is once again offering fee-free days which allow visitors to check out the nation’s 392 national parks without paying the admission fee that usually ranges from $3 to $25, depending on the park. The fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other costs such as reservations, camping, concessions, and fees collected by third parties are not waived. The first fee-free period of 2010 is actually an entire week—National Parks Week, April 17-25.
If you’re looking for a good reason to take a spring road trip or are already on the road wondering where to head next, consider visiting some of the most popular national parks now—early in the season—before the summer crowds. Since wind, rain and even snow can affect park roads and campgrounds this time of year, call ahead to be certain of driving conditions and campground closures.
The Top 10 most visited national parks are:
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
3. Yosemite National Park, California
4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
5. Olympic National Park, Washington
6. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
7. Zion National Park, Utah
8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
9. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
10. Acadia National Park, Maine
To make it even easier on the wallet, and in addition to free admission, many national park concessioners are welcoming visitors with their own special offers— reduced lodging, half price activities, and gift shop discounts. Offers vary by park.
Don’t miss out on America’s Best Idea— the national parks. Also mark your calendar for future fee-free days— Public Lands Day, September 25, 2010 and Veterans Day, November 11, 2010.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com